Voting on 10-A

Today, my presbytery meets and will vote on the proposed replacement to our Book of Order regarding the much debated “fidelity and chastity clause.”

Currently the book of order states:

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.
Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

The proposed replacement states:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

Let me be clear, G-6.0106b is not simply about homosexuality – it is about the submission to the authority of Scripture for all who have been called to ordained ministry.  Read the last sentence again, “Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

As Theology Matters put it, “This is not a call to perfection, but repentance.  No candidate for office is without sin.  The issue is whether any sin is defiantly embraced, or is repented of with a desire to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live an amended life.  Scripture is clear that sin is a denial of Christ’s Lordship and no leader can be effective in leading others to submit to the Lordship of Christ when he/she has rejected it in his/her own life.”

The proposed language calls the church to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, but seemingly separates submission to Christ from submission to Scripture; they are the same.  Moreover, the new language removes not just an explicit standard that fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness, but also an ethos of humble, repentant, submission to Scripture as the word of God which reveals to us the person, work, and will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am saddened by the vitriol, the arrogance, and the back-room politicking perpetrated by all sides of this matter.  This proceedure has made it quite clear that “ordination standards” are the least of this denomination’s problems, and the only thing holding us together may be a well-funded endowment and property rights (it certainly isn’t a common faith and mission).  As it seems inevitable that this amendment will pass in the denomination, my heart is grieved and I am ashamed. 

Still, the question before us today is shall the PC(USA) open the door for the ordination of those who knowingly and willingly continue in any activity (not just homosexuality) that the confessions, (which “guide the church in its study and interpretation of the Scriptures,” and are for the church the standards of our faith and practice) call sin?

My answer, my prayer, will and must be an emphatic and resounding “No!”

1 John 3:4-10 – “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you.  Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared to us was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

On the Authority of Scripture

After a week’s worth of musings on the Authority of Scripture, my reading plan from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion brought me to chapters 6 and 7.  Here are some particularly relevant quotes.

The first step is to reverently embrace the testimony of God with obedience:

If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages.

The authority of Scripture does not depend on the consent of man.  Instead, Scripture derives its authority because it comes from God, and is attested by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit.

For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted.

The rest needs no summary, its just beautiful.

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own Judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human Judgment, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our Judgment, but we subject our intellect and Judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of the reality.  The only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. Nay, the modest and teachable reader will find a sufficient reason in the promise contained in Isaiah, that all the children of the renovated Church “shall be taught of the Lord,” (Isaiah 54:13).